Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt personally victimised by a commercial fitness outlet
5 ways your gym is probably ripping you off In a nutshell:
- They lock you into a contract – a minimum term contract should be viewed as a guarantee that even if their service sucks, you’ll be stuck paying for it.
- They don’t allow or make it very hard for you to “pause” payments – Uhm, why should you be paying for a gym that you’re not attending?
- They’re happy to take large sums of money, even if they’re not earning it – is it really good business to be taking money for a service that is not provided?
- They don’t offer support or assistance – If you’re struggling to transition into a healthier lifestyle, shouldn’t the people you’re paying to help actually be helping you?
- They overcharge and underpay – if your gym is charging a premium fee, they should be paying for premium staffers.
The fitness industry, like most other industries, is filled to bursting point with charlatans, cash grabbers and your general, run of the mill cowboys. It really does seem that there is no limit to the depths that people/business will sink in order to maximise profits – more often than not at the expense of the consumer. I’ve noticed o number of recurring themes throughout my years in the gym and thought I’d compile a list of all the ways that your gym is (probably) ripping you off! Here goes:
Liam is the founder and head personal trainer at The Camp. He believes that good quality fitness services should be affordable and accessible for all.
1. They lock you into a contract.
This one is likely to have gym owners and personal trainers the world over baying for my blood. I can hear the screams already “I need a stable income too!” – which, on face value does seem fairly reasonable. I do, however, entirely disagree. If you are a business owner or professional service provider and need to lock members into binding contracts to ensure your income – I would challenge that it is your business model that is the primary issue, not “flaky” consumers. This model breeds apathy toward consumers and paves the way for a proliferation of sub standard services like battery farm style commercial gyms with an absurd number of paying customers who never use the facilities. The onus should be on the business or professional to provide a service that consumers want to continue using, not one that you might but have to pay anyway. If your gym, personal trainer or other professional service provider insists on locking you into a contract, you should be questioning why they are so nervous about you leaving in the first place – and consider that you may end up getting ripped off!
2. They don’t allow or make it very hard for you to “pause” payments.
A few years ago while training at an internationally recognised commercial gym, my partner and I put together our dream holiday. A six week long globe trotting tour from Sydney to New York via Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Japan and Mexico. You can imagine my frustration when I continued having to pay my fifty dollars per week gym membership fees for four of those six weeks. The week prior to leaving I had stopped by the front desk to pause for my holidays where I was told “You need to submit your request to pause in writing to the manager, with two weeks notice and we can only pause for two weeks”. When I remarked on the unfairness and unnecessarily intensive process the receptionist replied “well you signed the contract, didn’t you?”. There is absolutely NO reason I can see for the unnecessarily difficult process or restrictions on amount of pause time. Why should consumers pay for a service they are not using? If your gym, personal trainer or other professional service makes it very difficult or even worse impossible to suspend payments you are definitely getting ripped off.
3. They’re happy to take large sums of money – even if they’re not earning it.
A few years ago while training at a large commercial gym in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, I suffered a debilitating back injury that knocked me out for close to three months. During this time I was completely focused on rehabilitation, physiotherapy and just getting back to a pain free life – so much so that I neglected to call the gym and attempt to suspend my membership. Needless to say, over this period there was no contact from the gym, not a call to follow up on why my attendance had dropped from five times per week to zero overnight and upon my return no offer to reimburse or even defer future payments in lieu of what was already lost. To be sure there is a degree of personal responsibility here, however, the situation still begs the question “is it ethical to take money for a service you’re not providing?” – especially for such long periods of time. Of course, attending the gym is a personal responsibility, but should providers really be so blasé about taking consumers money without following up? If your gym, personal trainer or other professional service provider is happy to take your money while you’re not using their services – you are definitely getting ripped off.
4. They don’t offer support or assistance.
How much support did your gym offer you on the journey toward your fitness goals after the sale was closed? When I first started my own fitness journey at the tender age of twenty-one, I recall signing up for a membership with another international commercial gym. I was ushered through the sales process by an overzealous ‘consultant” and left standing alone on the gym floor, absolutely clueless. I ran on the treadmill for a little while, did some bicep curls and left – not to return for at least twelve months! Needless to say I paid for the entire tenure, without a follow up. Now, after working in these gyms for a number of years I can confirm that I was not alone. Sadly, I am quite certain this experience is actually closer to the rule than exception and a vast number of attempts to lead a healthier, more active life are cut short because of a lack of support and/or assistance. Again, there is a certain degree of personal responsibility involved and some people do end up just getting over it. Once again, however, the ethics of charging consumers who are; unable, due to lack of knowledge or; unwilling, due to lack of interest seems very shaky.
5. They overcharge and underpay.
This one leans toward the treatment of staff more than consumers but still impacts the quality of services provided for paying members. While working for a boutique personal training studio in Sydney I was presented with a particularly difficult payment scenario that I found simultaneously both disheartening and angering. The members that I was charged with finding, bringing into the studio and/or converting into paying customers were billed a whopping ninety five dollars per forty five minute session, while I was paid a meagre twenty five. That’s a massive seventy nine per cent of earnings taxed from the employee – with no recognition of the time and effort spent finding and converting those members, employee benefits or protections. Similarly, a wildly successful, popular and internationally established Australian group fitness chain is well known for notoriously it’s low rates of pay, often explained away with the claim “the hourly rate is low, but we provide employees with multiple classes throughout the day!” Because less pay for more work is a totally acceptable idea, especially when each of those classes are packed with thirty plus members who’s weekly fee more than triples the hourly rate of pay. Why should it concern consumers that their often exorbitant fees are not being passed along to the people who are training them? Fairness and decency aside, if you’re paying for an expensive service – the experience and knowledge of the service provider should match the price. For ninety five dollars per forty five minutes you should be expecting a university educated, highly experienced employee – instead many of us are paying top dollar for underpaid and over worked Tafe grads, fresh from a six month, one night per week evening course.
6. **BONUS** They charge a sign up fee.
This one is so short that counting it as full point felt counter intuitive to the point of the article. I have never witnessed, at any point in my more than ten year career in the fitness industry a situation where signing on a new member cost a gym anything more than a few minutes of employee time. So how on earth do they justify the blatant cash grab that is a new member sign up fee?
While many of the problems listed above are rampant and commonplace amongst even the oldest, most venerated of commercial gyms and group fitness providers there are bright spots on the horizon. Many providers have taken steps to shore up their reputations after wide spread criticisms and consumer abandonment threatened their business models. Some business models even necessitate the need for some of the behaviours listed above, for example a ten dollar per week bargain basement gym simply cannot be expected to provide world class assistance and education – it’s simply not feasible. That being said, if you’re being subjected to any of the behaviours above, you should question long and hard whether your gym is ripping you off.
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